Autumnal magic of the Mendips
It is that time of year when we are on the cusp of the seasons.
One day it can be blue skies and sunshine, with even a faint reminder of those late summer days, whereas the next day there can literally be a snow plough heading down the A46 from the motorway, clearing three inches of snow off of the main entrance gate to Bath.
In between there are those forgettable days of leaden skies and fine rainfall, or the more memorable days of monsoon-like rain when some local roads resemble inland waterways.
If a ridge of high pressure decides to sit over the UK, I recommend heading off for the Mendip Hills to enjoy this fine upland excursion, before the dark and dank days of winter really do set in.
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From a parking area at the top of Burrington Combe, a modest climb of some 450 feet brings the walk to the trig point at Beacon Batch, the literal high point on the Mendip Hills.
In a former existence, I happened to be a geography teacher. Each autumn, I would accompany groups of pupils to the Mendip Hills with the object being to explain that intricate relationship between bedrock and vegetation.
Whilst the earnest group leader would explain how the acidic soils of this sandstone upland restricted the vegetation to just bracken and heather, I would spend my time marvelling at the fine views and open landscape of this corner of North Somerset.
The views from Beacon Batch, well over 1,000 feet above sea-level, are immense and almost defy description. The Bristol Channel, the Welsh Hills, Chew and Blagdon Lakes, Exmoor ... the landmarks are many.
Equally impressive in their own way are a series of small mounds that lie either side of the path running across the hilltop, with the most extreme theory being that this is a holiday camp for moles.
A better theory suggests these are grassed-over stones, designed to destroy enemy planes tempted to land on this flat upland during the last war prior to an invasion of Bristol.
From this lofty hilltop, the walk descends down into Burrington Combe, where a brief detour will bring you to one of those legendary British landmarks. It was here in 1762, if local legend is to be believed, that the Reverend Augustus Toplady took shelter in a cleft in the rocks when a thunderstorm struck.
Taking inspiration from what was a natural shelter provided by the Mendip limestone, Toplady was inspired to pen the hymn Rock of Ages. Recent commentators have cast doubt on the reliability of the story, but why spoil what is a good yarn?
The actual 'Rock of Ages' is a huge vertical limestone cliff inlaid with a substantial crack or cleft – and often populated by the Mendip version of Mountain Goats.
The cleft is the result of slightly acidic rainwater widening a joint in the rock over many thousands of years.
The Reverend, a curate at nearby Blagdon, was returning home on horseback when a storm struck. Those immortal words 'Rock of ages cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee' will now take on a whole new imagery having visited the source of their inspiration.
Having taken in your fill of this noted landmark – or maybe having taken in the delights of the adjoining Burrington Inn – the walk returns to the parking area by way of Burrington Ham.
This is a fine open stretch of limestone upland, whose coarse grass, scattered bushes and scrubland also offer a fine view of Blackdown and the early part of the walk.
This is quite the perfect walk to blow away those seasonal cobwebs, or even to recharge the batteries before the onslaught of the festive season.